Lemon balm: the smart way to cognitive health

Published: 8-May-2014

Sybille Buchwald-Werner, Managing Director of Vital Solutions, explains how an extract derived from a special Melissa officinalis breeding line can support cognitive performance

Consumers are more frequently looking for natural support to cope with the daily demands of a high workload, stress and family issues in a cool-headed, focused and structured way without compromising their long-term health. Approximately 32% of consumers take dietary supplements or functional foods that are known to improve brain function.

The most frequent users of mental health supplements are aged between 18 and 25 years and older than 45. Whereas the 45+ population prefers supplements, the younger consumer group tends to select functional foods in the form of beverages, shots or bars, helping them to enhance their memory and mental focus while on the move.1 American and European studies show that students use soft, neuroenhancer-like energy drinks and even prescription drugs to boost their cognitive performance.2

In addition to the desire to improve cognitive functions such as alertness, concentration and working memory on demand, for example, 62% of consumers believe that supplements and/or functional foods and drinks can be effective in delaying normal age-related memory loss. “Retaining mental sharpness as I age” is a number one health concern.1 Despite significant consumer demand, brain supplements represent a growing yet relatively small health category. For example, the heart health supplement category is four times the size of the brain health category.3 The market is looking for product innovation with scientifically proven cognitive and mental health benefits.

Lemon Balm Extract for Cognitive Performance

Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, is an annual edible herb that’s native to Europe. Its traditional medical applications focus on the essential oil components of the plant and on rosmarinic acid for relaxation properties. Studies showed that the traditional relaxing effects may be linked to elevated levels of the neurotransmitter GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) by inhibiting GABA-transaminase (GABA T), an enzyme that degrades GABA. Rosmarinic acid is thought to be responsible for this effect.4

In addition, it is also known that rosmarinic acid is able to inhibit the enzyme, acetylcholinesterase, which degrades the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Studies have shown that age-related cognitive deficits and Alzheimer’s disease may be related to low acetylcholine levels.5

Modern research has shown that selected Melissa officinalis varieties and breeding lines support new applications for lemon balm on cognitive performance based on cholinergic receptor binding properties.6,7 It seems as if the traditional use of lemon balm for relaxation is supported by all varieties; however, the beneficial effects on cognitive performance could not be confirmed for all of the lemon balm varieties investigated. Published human studies report that extracts with the same phytochemical specification obtained from different varieties did not show the same beneficial cognitive effects.8 This indicates that the well-established method of standardising lemon balm extracts based on rosmarinic acid as the main active compound may not represent the whole range of active principles, particularly not those contributing to cognitive performance.

Vital Solutions’ research and extensive know-how in natural products has enabled them to identify a special lemon balm breeding line that supports cognitive effects, particularly alertness and memory. To confirm these beneficial cognitive effects, all critical process points, from the selection of the raw material to the release of a batch, are controlled by an innovative bioassay guided technology as well as by traditional phytochemical parameters. The resulting lemon balm extract is marketed under the brand name Bluenesse.

Bluenesse is standardised according to muscarinic receptor binding activity and rosmarinic acid content, introducing a new dimension in quality control and bridging the gap between a traditional European herb and innovative bioassay guided technologies. Bluenesse is an exclusive Melissa officinalis extract developed to support cognitive performance and mental health. Figure 1 summarises of the different mode of actions of Bluenesse on mental health.

Human Study Results

Bluenesse has been scientifically substantiated with human study results. The main human study was conducted by Professor Scholey of the Brain Science Institute, Swinburne University, Australia. Prof. Scholey is a well-known expert on brain health and has focused his research on lemon balm. The aim of the study was to evaluate the effects of the lemon balm extract on cognitive performance under mild stress, comparable with a general multitasking environment (which most consumers experience every day).

The investigation included parameters to evaluate cognitive performance, physiological reaction of stress and mood. It was a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled, balanced-crossover, monocentric study involving 25 healthy people. The lemon balm extract was tested in concentrations of 300 and 600mg. Study results demonstrated that, one hour after consuming a 300mg dosage, significant beneficial effects on alertness, working memory and word recall, cortisol reduction as a marker for stress and reduced anxiety could be detected. The effects were still measurable three hours after intake (Table 1).

Table 1: Summary of Bluenesse mental health effects
In vitro and human studies, as well as phytochemical investigation, confirmed that Bluenesse supports
Alertness/concentration/mental focus
Working memory
A calm, positive mood
Ability to cope of occasional stress
Improvement of age-related cognitive impairment


Bluenesse is an exclusive Melissa officinalis extract developed to support cognitive performance and mental health, as well as reduce the long-term negative physiological effects of stress for overall health. It uniquely combines calming and alertness-increasing effects, providing the ability to deal with complex situations, from a high workload to family issues, in a cool-headed, focused and structured way. Bluenesse is a high quality, sustainable, natural food ingredient, which is IP protected and approved for use in dietary supplements and foods in Europe and the US. Bluenesse has a pleasant taste and is water soluble. It can be used in food supplements as well as in foods and beverages.


1. Sloan Trends Incorporated, Getting Ahead of the Curve: Mental Performance and Brain Health, 2010 (http://beta.rodpub.com/uploads/ May%2010.pdf).

2. L.J. Maier, et al., “To Dope or Not to Dope: Neuroenhancement with Prescription Drugs and Drugs of Abuse among Swiss University Students,” PLOS ONE 8(11), e77967 (2013).

3. T. Runestad, “Rethinking Brain Health,” Natural Foods Merchandiser: http://newhope360.com/print/supplements/rethinking-brain-health.

4. R. Awad, et al., “Bioassay Guided Fractionation of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis L.) Using an In Vitro Measure of GABA Transaminase Activity,” Phytotherapy Research 23(8), 1075–1081 (2009).

5. K. Dastmalchi, et al., “Acetylcholinesterase Inhibitory Guided Fractionation of Melissa officinalis L.,” Bioorg Med. Chemistry 17(2), 867–871 (2009).

6. H. Schroeter, et al., “Phenolic Antioxidants Attenuate Neuronal Cell Death Following Uptake of Oxidized Low-Density Lipoprotein,” Free Radical Biological Medicine 29(12), 1222–1233 (2000).

7. G. Wake, et al., “CNS Acetylcholine Receptor Activity in European Medicinal Plants Traditionally Used to Improve Failing Memory,” J. Ethnopharmacol. 69(2), 105–114 (2000).

8. D. Kennedy, “The Psychopharmacology of European Herbs with Cognitive-Enhancing Properties,” Curr. Pharm. Des. 12(35), 4613–4623 (2006).

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